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AFC playoff notes

By wire services
Published January 7, 2004

COLTS: For a team that had lost five consecutive playoff games since reaching the AFC title game in 1996 and that never had won a playoff game in Indianapolis, the game plan Sunday was simple: Get the ball to the playmakers.

And they made plays, leading to the 41-10 win over Denver.

"Two weeks ago, we ran into a buzzsaw," said Colts coach Tony Dungy, recalling a 31-17 loss to the Broncos in which the Colts had the ball for 15:02 and ran 37 plays. "But when we looked at the film, it wasn't really as bad as it seemed. A third-down conversion here, a stop there, and we're in that game. But we didn't make the plays."

So the Colts didn't really change up much for the rematch. "Shoot," quarterback Peyton Manning said, "they never saw our game plan the first game because we were never on the field."

They did cut back on the audibles, making more decisive first decisions to control the tempo at the line of scrimmage. And they did put the ball in the right people's hands.

"You always want the ball," said running back Edgerrin James, who wouldn't have minded more than the 17 carries he wound up with, "but when we're moving it around the way we did (Sunday), it makes it really tough on the defense."

PATRIOTS: New England not only was spotless at Gillette Stadium, but since a 38-30 win over Tennessee Oct. 5 it allowed one touchdown at home in the final six games.

New England has more history on its side, most notably the snow game two years ago in which the Patriots beat the Raiders. That game is best known for the "tuck rule" that overturned Tom Brady's fumble, which would have clinched an Oakland victory. New England won in overtime and went on to win the Super Bowl.

So if it is windy and snowy Saturday night, don't blame the Patriots if they have flashbacks.

Brady, however, doesn't make a big thing out of being at home.

"Every team that is in the playoffs has had a successful season, and they are really the best teams," he said. "Tampa Bay won it last year, and they didn't have home field (for the NFC title game). We won it two years ago, we didn't have home field (in the AFC Championship Game). And then Baltimore won it three years ago, they didn't have home field.

"So having home field is important. I think a bye is more important than that."

TITANS: Tennessee gets a chance to erase the memories of that loss to New England.

Coach Jeff Fisher said being healthy on defense should help the Titans significantly.

"They had some injuries as well, but they ran the ball very well against us, which was embarrassing when we looked at the tape," Fisher said. "But we have corrected those things since then."

The Titans played that game with linebacker Peter Sirmon, their second-leading tackler, sidelined with broken bones in his lower back. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth also sat out with a dislocated left elbow, and cornerback Samari Rolle sustained an identical injury on the fourth play of the game.

That left Tennessee with All-Pro linebacker Keith Bulluck out of position, making calls for the defense in place of Sirmon.

Rolle missed three more games after that loss because of his elbow. But he has three interceptions in his past three games, and he doesn't believe the added pressure will affect the Titans now.

"You just want to make sure you leave everything all out on the field so all offseason you're not saying, "I wish I'd have done this. I wish I'd have done that,' " Rolle said.

[Last modified January 7, 2004, 01:33:45]


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